“A (Re)turn to the Archive: Reading the Lives and Works of Yvonne Vera and Dambudzo Marechera”

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Kastner, Sarah
Literature , Archives , Zimbabwe , Life Writing , Neoliberalism
In this dissertation, I read the life and work of the Zimbabwean authors, Yvonne Vera (1964 – 2005) and Dambudzo Marechera (1952 – 1987), against a set of assumptions about the work of African life storytelling in late liberalism. The circulation and reception of narrated lives in the global literary marketplace tends to centre a form of liberal subjectivity premised on the presumed virtues of speech and presence, supporting a series of claims about the therapeutic value of representation in the event of Africa’s historical traumas. I argue that the trauma-informed narratives that Vera and Marechera present in their fiction put pressure on conventional notions of trauma that emplot therapeutic understandings of postcolonial narrative in which the telling of one’s story brings release from that story. Both Vera and Marechera resist the normative development of personhood that presumes self-disclosing speech acts to be universally therapeutic, and that underwrites developmentalist notions of improvement and inclusion. To demonstrate this, I read a form of silence in Vera’s archive and in her fiction that resists western oppositional hierarchies between silence and speech, and a parallel form of refusal, in Marechera’s archive, to perform his ‘arrival’ on the world literary stage as a redemptive ending to the harrowing story of his birth in the Harare townships. I trace their attempts to make suffering matter differently, against a backdrop of nationalist suffering writ large in the master fiction of collective struggle in Zimbabwe, and against a conventional view of African suffering that appeals abstractly to a global literary audience as a form of normative emancipation from the postcolonial condition, arguing that both authors imagined forms of freedom beyond their conscription into the world of Man.
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